Cognitive Dissonance Analysis: Stepping Out of Assigned Roles

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Running Head: Cognitive Dissonance Analysis

Cognitive Dissonance Analysis: Stepping Out of Assigned Roles

Randi Cutler
Lehigh University

Abstract
Research conducted by Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith has shown promise for the effects of cognitive dissonance on personal belief, and the adjustment of those beliefs to match publicly supported, yet contradictory arguments. We are testing to see whether the cognitive dissonance theory can be overcome by explicitly telling participants to step out of the role that they were assigned to. Participants included fifteen female and five male Lehigh undergraduates who watched a video clip about the relevance of aquatic theory, and were then told to evaluate that theory from an assenting or dissenting viewpoint to which they were assigned. Following their review, participants were asked to abandon their assigned roles, and complete a survey that would measure their personal agreement with the speaker in the video clip. Our findings were not significant enough to definitively say whether beliefs were altered as a result of assigned roles, and the detachment from them, but the average assessment of agreement score showed a slight difference in our predicted direction, that beliefs would be changed as a result of dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance Analysis: Stepping Out of Assigned Roles Human belief is thought to play a major role in deciding course of action. What if actions, however, proved to play a role in forming human belief? Recent studies conducted by Festinger and Carlsmith assign merit to the cognitive dissonance theory, a theory that explores the disconnect between actions and beliefs and lends itself to the possibility of altering those beliefs based on existing societal pressure to conform. Plainly put, cognitive dissonance is the presence of behaviors that are inconsistent with beliefs and that cause psychological discomfort. In an effort to prove the Cognitive Dissonance Theory, researchers decided to experiment with incentive. Participants were pressured and bribed to take on assigned roles as promoters of the experiment, despite their true feelings of boredom and disinterest in it, and some ended up believing in the new perspective. The cognitive dissonance theory arose as an explanation for the changes in some of the participant’s beliefs about the experiment. This result was seen more prevalently when participants were given less money (one dollar) and not really noticed when participants were given more money (twenty dollars). It seems that one dollar is not enough initiative to justify the false promotion of a boring experiment, so cognitive dissonance is experienced. Taken directly from Festinger and Carlsmith’s study, “One way in which the dissonance can be reduced is a person to change his private opinion so as to bring it into correspondence with what he has said.” (Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith 204) The change in belief that the participants experienced is synonymous with this idea. Those who received 20 dollars, got enough money to justify lying to another participant about their own experience, and thus, dissonance was experienced to a lesser degree. The external incentive seems to detract from any internal conflict, because a substantial amount of money is enough justification for internal dissonance. It is understandable that our study would be looking into the effects of cognitive dissonance because participants were told to support opposing viewpoints from their own. Despite the fact that Cognitive dissonance theory has been supported for quite some time, our study aims to challenge its validity. In their study, Festinger and Carlsmith had their participants fill out evaluation forms after their participation, but they never explained that the participants could abandon their assigned role. This lapse in communication, or at the very least clarification, compromises the integrity and the establishment of the cognitive...
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